The Warships
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Boating book reviews:


Shipping posters by Harry Hudson Rodmell

Text by Arthur G Credland

Shipping postersWhen the marine artist Harry Rodmell died in 1984 his reputation was high amongst his fellow artists and an enthusiastic band of collectors, though the public at large was hardly aware of his contribution to the art of the poster and the tradition of marine painting.

This colourful book should go some way in ensuring that Rodmellís acheivement reaches a wide audience.

Arthur Credlandís text is a model of how these things should be done and the quality of printing does full justice to Rodmellís colourful and arresting shipping posters - posters which seem to breath the very air of the 20s and 30s.

An Illustrated History of the Royal Navy

By John Winton

Royal NavyThereís a broad sweep of history here beginning in the 13th century and ending with the nuclear age. Main campaigns, important battles, tactics, great commanders, life at sea, training, advanced technology and many other topics are touched on to give a good overview of the Royal Navyís history that should appeal to anyone interested in the Senior Service. Beautifully produced in large format, the book is profusely illustrated in colour with images drawn from the collections of the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth which provide a stunning visual celebration of a branch of the armed services that has not simply defended the nation, but has seeped deep into its culture as well. Needless to say, this is all taken at something of a gallop, but as an introduction to a area of study that has produced thousands of books on virtually every topic looked at in the book, it is very good indeed.

In short, the llustrated History of the Royal Navy is just the sort of book to inspire further, deeper study.

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Jack Tar: Marine Art and Antiques

By J Welles Henderson and Rodney P Carlisle

Jack Tar: Marine Art and AntiquesThis book looks at the life and world of Jack Tar through the comprehensive collections of contemporary maritime art and artefacts that Welles Henderson put together over a lifetime. This is both an original and interesting way of coming at the subject, not least because it shows how the common sailor was seen by artists and craftsmen rather than by his commanding officers or historians. The material used to illustrate the book - paintings, prints, ceramics, carvings, models, medals etc - is from a collection that has been described as "unique" and "world class" and is presented in a form that maintains the high standards we have come to expect from the bookís publishers.

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Brunelís Ships

By Denis Griffiths, Andrew Lambert and Fred Walker

brunel's shipsThis book focuses on a single aspect of the engineering genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel and does so with telling effect. Brunel designed three revolutionary steamships: the Great Western, the first practical transatlantic paddle-steamer; the Great Britain, the first iron-built screw-driven liner; and the Great Eastern, which remained the largest ship in the world for some 50 years.

In addition, this book makes a convincing case for Brunel having developed the worldís first screw propeller warship with the Rattler, and shows that he, more than any other, ensured the success of the screw propeller. Brunelís Ships brings together three authorities: Denis Griffiths taught marine engineering at John Mooreís University, Liverpool, and has written the fine monograph, Brunelís Great Western; Andrew Lambert has just been appointed to the first chair in naval history in the UK at Kingís College, London; and Fred Walker, a naval architect, is a curator at the NMM were he wrote Song of the Clyde, an authoritative survey of shipbuilding on the Scottish river.

Together, this trio have managed to create a unified and informative book that gets beyond all the myth and propaganda that surrounds Brunel, with a result that the great manís achievement is seen, in this area of his genius at least, as if for the first time.

The book is illustrated with many contemporary prints, photographs and original draughts and, thank goodness, not those tired old images that are trotted out whenever something on Brunel appears in print.

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The Last of the Wind Ships

By Alan Villiers

The Last of the Wind ShipsAlan Villiers did more than anybody to record the twilight years of deepwater commercial sail, and what is more, he did it not from the security of a book-lined study but from first-hand, hard-won experience of the ships themselves. Villiers was born in Melbourne in 1903, and at 15 left home to become a seaman. However, an injury aboard ship forced him to turn to journalism, with the result that he joined a Norwegian whaling expedition to Antarctica in 1923.

The story of this trip formed the basis of his first book, Whaling in the Frozen South, and set him on course for a career both as a professional seaman of sail and a gifted writer and photographer.

There followed a number of superb books on the big steel cargo carriers of the last days of sail, including Falmouth for Orders, By Way of Cape Horn, The Way of a Ship, The War with Cape Horn and Voyage of the Parma. Nor is it just for the books that we owe Villiers such a debt of gratitude: in 1929 he and a fellow journalist, Ronald Walker, shipped aboard the last full-rigged ship in the Cape Horn grain trade, the Grace Harwar, in order to make a documentary film. The resulting book, By Way of Cape Horn, is probably the greatest account of a voyage in a big sailing freighter ever written, and the film shot of that trip is a remarkable record of seafaring in a deep-laden sailing ship.

The passage from Australia to Falmouth and Cardiff by way of Cape Horn was a voyage from hell. Walker was killed aloft; the second mate went mad as a result, jumped overboard in bad weather, but was saved. Grace Harwar was under-manned, under-provisioned and very slow, and on near starvation rations, the crew was forced to signal a tanker in the North Atlantic to ask for meat and vegetables. Yet in spite of everything, Villiers shot some 6,000 feet of film: "I filmed and photographed," wrote Villiers, "for that could not be given up, and I tried to make as good a job as Walker would have done."

Other voyages were to follow, and a certain amount of fame and fortune. In the Second World War Villiers became a temporary commander in the Royal Navy in charge of squadrons of landing craft, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After the conflict Alan, along with Basil Greenhill and others, was in the van of establishing a national collection of historic photographs of merchant shipping, and today the National Maritime Museum houses what is probably the greatest archive of its kind in the world. Indeed, in his fine introduction to the book now under review, Basil Greenhill writes that it "would be proper for the present generation of Trustees of the Museum to name it The Alan Villiers Photographic Library".

Harvillís The Last of the Wind Ships is a first-rate selection of Villierís accounts of voyages aboard the Herzogin Cecilie, the Grace Harwar and the Parma, and a tribute to a great seaman, writer and photographer as well as a "noble and high minded man". Large format, beautifully produced, the book does real justice to Villierís stunning photographs, many of which are given double-page spreads, as well as quoting relevant passages from the original books.

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Sailing Alone Around the World

By Capt Joshua Slocum

Sailing Alone Around the World Joshua Slocum was born by the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, in 1844. In 1860 he left home for good to become a deep-water sailorman and in 1869 he obtained his first command. In 1882 he bought shares and commanded the three-skysailyard ship, Northern Light, a vessel which in his own words was the "finest American sailing vessel afloat".

A few years later he sold out his shares and bought the barque Aquideck a vessel on which he experienced mutiny and had to shoot two men. Cleared, he embarked on a career of writing about the sea and sail, which job eventually led him to Spray. In April 1895 Slocum sailed from Boston and three years and 46,000 miles later he brought his 37ft gaff-rigged sloop back to Newport, Rhode Island. He had become the first man to sail alone around the world and in so doing he had sailed into history. Of course, these days such things are almost commonplace, and are made with technological gismos of great sophistication - Slocum did it differently : "I got my famous tin clock, the only timepiece I carried on the whole voyage. The price of it was a dollar and a half, but on account of the face being smashed the merchant let me have it for a dollar."

And when it came to food there was nothing scientific about this lone sailorís nutrition: "My diet on these long passages usually consisted of potatoes and salt cod and biscuits..." This paperback is illustrated with the original artistís drawings which give an authentic late Victorian feel to the book. Slocumís prose is a model of its kind: honest, vivid, salty, and at times, lyrical. In short, this book is a classic, and if you havenít read it, this competitively priced paperback is great value.

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The Magic of the Swatchways

By Maurice Griffiths

The Magic of the SwatchwaysThis is one of the few truly great yachting books, and if there isnít a copy on your shelves this paperback reprint is your chance to own Griffiths" evocation of a place and a time that now seems light years away. The place is the coast of Kent, Essex and Suffolk, of course, and the time is the 1930s.

It was a time before the popular yachting boom had clogged the rivers and creeks with moorings, a time, in fact, when yachting was still largely the province of wealthy men who employed fishermen as yacht hands; a time when the sailing barge could be found at work in every little creek; a time when the rhythm of life on the coast was more in tune with wind and tide. And what Griffiths does so well is to describe those times without getting dewy-eyed or descending into purple prose. His account of sailing a little yacht is always utterly believable whilst at the same time being awash with an enthusiasm that is really infectious. Nor is this a book just for the "East Coast man"- anyone who sails or dreams about sailing a little ship will find this book enthralling.

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Blue at the Mizzen

Published by Harper Collins

Blue at the Mizzen Those of us who have followed the lives of Aubrey and Maturin from their first meeting as young men all those years ago in the Music Room in the Governorís House, Port Mahon, will know what to expect from this, the 20th book in the series. Quite simply, OíBrian has written the finest record of a friendship between two men in literature, a record that with Blue at the Mizzen extends to something in the region of two million words!

And with Aubrey and Maturin, what contrasting characters we have - what richness and subtleties, light and shade; what two fallible, and in their own individual ways, endearing and entirely human beings they are.

And what a world they inhabit, these two men: the Royal Navy of Nelsonís time was never, in all the vast field of fiction devoted to it, better and more penetratingly described than in these books. These are historical novels of the very highest calibre: in short, they are without equal in the genre.

The Complete Sailing Manual

By Steve Sleight

Complete Sailing Manual The production standards on this book are very high. With over 750 coloured photographs and many superb diagrams, not to mention a text that puts across a great deal of information in a concise yet readable form, this book certainly lives up to its title.

From dinghy sailing to cruising, with sections on navigation, weather, boat care, and safety, this is a good general introduction to the pastime, though one wonders if the inclusion of both dinghy sailing and cruising in the same volume makes great commercial sense.

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HMS Victory

By Alan McGowan

HMS VictoryNo other ship can have had more words written about her than HMS Victory, which begs the question, why do we need another?

Well, that question is perfectly answered by this book because whilst it deals in part with Victoryís illustrious past, it is in its essentials the story of the old shipís restoration, and as such an original contribution to the literature.

As a result, we learn a lot, not just about how Victory was constructed, but also about her interior fittings, armament, boats, paintwork, anchors, her rigging and sails.

At the core of the book are 200 fine drawings by John McKay - there are some 90 pages of these - and in their clarity they are models of their kind. Alan McGowanís text delivers a lot of highly technical information in an eminently readable way, much of that information being a result of the most recent research. In short, this will be a valuable addition to the library of anyone interested in the sailing navy, be they armchair sailors, historians, model makers or those concerned with the conservation of old wooden sailing vessels.

George Chambers 1803-1840

His Life and Work by Alan Russett

There is a sub-title to this superb book that goes a long way to explaining why Chambers is one of the greats of early 19th century British marine art: The Sailorís Eye and the Artistís Hand. Quite simply, because he sailed the vessels that he portrayed; because he had watched the sea in all its moods; because he had seen the way sunshine and cloud and rain change the way things look, and because his experience was wedded to a mastery of both oil and watercolour technique, Chambers produced work that was both painterly and accurate. When looking at a painting by Chambers it is his naturalism that shines through. His is an art that seems to spring from a kind of simple love of things rather like that of David Cox. If Turner called the latter "Farmer" Cox, one is tempted to call the subject of this book "Sailor" Chambers.

No painter of the sea and ships could have sprung from a lowlier background. Born in Whitby the son of a seaman, Chambers first went to sea at the age of 10 in a Humber keel called the Experiment. Next came a period in the Equity, a snow trading between the NE and London and later down to Trieste and the Adriatic. It was whilst serving on the Equity that Chambers began to draw what he saw around him, and sometime in late 1821 or early 1822 he went ashore in Whitby to become an apprentice "house and ship painter". Soon the Greenland captains got the young Chambers to paint pictures of their ships on millboards. His career had begun. In 1825 he crewed the Valleyfield up to London and for his work was paid £2. He had arrived in the artistic capital of the country, and with a determination forged no doubt from his hard and poor background, Chambers set about making a career for himself. He did not know it, but he had just 15 years to live.

When he died in 1840 Chambers had not attained the high profile of some of his contemporary marine artists but he was on his way. Nor are the reasons for his lack of high status in the firmament of marine artists of the period difficult to find. He died young, of course. Others were more flamboyant in their lives. Chambers did not know the "right people".

Above all, Chambers produced work that was, when compared to his contemporaries, like the man himself, both restrained and sensitive. Also, soon after his death, changing tastes in the Victorian period meant that he was somewhat overlooked. Now, with our ability to take an over-view of his work and the modern taste for naturalism and painterly skills, Chambers" reputation is secure. This book is an important contrib-ution to the study of a somewhat neglected area of 19th century art, that is, marine painting in general. As a monograph on an artist long due for greater recognition it is a superb study. Alan Russett has done George Chambers proud.

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Sailing Ships

By Colin Mudie

Sailing ShipsOne hesitates to call Colin Mudie the doyen of British designers of yachts and sailing ships, but he is, in fact, just that. One hesitates because the word carries overtones of age and hence the further undercurrent of being somewhat passé and Colin, though not in the first flush of youth, is certainly far from being behind the times. Hence, in this splendid book, its author acknowledges the lessons to be learnt from the past, the distant past, right up to the mid-19th century in fact, whilst at the same time bringing modern thinking to bear on the design of new sailing ships.

So in Sailing Ships, Colin Mudie looks at some of the vessels with which he has been involved, from recreations like the Argo and Matthew through to modern sail training ships like the Royalist and Young Endeavour. He looks at all areas of design from shape to rig, construction methods and materials, from accommodation to plumbing and a whole lot more besides.

The book is beautifully designed and illustrated with detailed "walkthroughs", line drawings and construction details and a host of fine photographs. Above all, however, what elevates this book is its authorís ability to write about the technical aspects of sailing ships in a way that is so eminently readable: Colin is, quite simply, a man who writes with the kind of light touch that could make an analysis of the development of the double sister block totally absorbing. As a result he has written a book that will be enjoyed by all those interested in sail, from the armchair shell-back to those with a more professional background.

In his introduction Colin apologises for making liberal use of the royal. The reason he gives for this is that all the opinions expressed are a co-operative effort made up of family, colleagues and friends. This modesty is a mark of the man: a life-long involvement with ships and the sea has taught him that, in his own words, íthere always seems to be an ever increasing amount to learn about this fascinating subject". Well, what Colin has learnt has made this book a "must have".

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A Viking Voyage

By W Hodding Carter

A Viking VoyageHodding Carter, in his own words, likes "retracing the steps that renowned or notorious people once took". This is the story of a voyage he made in a replica of a Viking cargo ship known as a íknarr" to re-enact the trip made by Leif Eriksson 1,000 years ago from Greenland to North America.

Eriksson sailed to a place called Vinland - nobody knows quite where that was - wintered there, and promptly returned to Greenland with the news that he had found a great new land for his people. Hodding Carterís account of his voyage is a high-octane piece of writing that charts a trip made with a rag-taggle crew and a boat that was open-decked and vulnerable to everything likely to be found at 60o N and it will hold you, spell-bound, until the little íknarr" comes safe to Newfoundland.

Letters from Sea 1882-1901 Joanna and Lincoln Colcordís Seafaring Childhood

by Parker Bishop Albee, Jnr

Letters from Sea 1882-1901Captain Lincoln Alden Colcord married Jane Sweetser Colcord in June 1881 and on the night of their wedding the couple sailed from Searport, Maine, on the start of a two-year voyage on the barque Charlotte A Littlefield. The voyage was to take them round the world and was to witness the birth of a daughter, Joanna, in the South Sea Islands, and that of a son, Lincoln, during a winter storm off Cape Horn.

In the years that followed the Colcords were to write "journal letters" to family members ashore, keep logbooks, take photographs and, in later years, write letters - all of which build to give a personal view of "family" life at sea during the final years of deep-sea commercial sail.

Here is the 24-year-old Jane writing a few weeks after giving birth to her son off Cape Horn: "I am sorry that the poor old Charlotte Ann has sprung a leak - has been leaking ever since 13th of August. When they discovered the leak, there were several feet of water in the hold. The next night, the baby was born.....". And three weeks later, she writes: "I shall be thankful to hear the anchor drop, for it is awful to hear those pumps going just about half the time, and think how little would send us down." This is the real thing, immediate and true, and more gripping than fiction.

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The International Register of Historic Ships

By Norman J Brouwer Chatham Publishing

The International Register of Historic Ships This is the third edition of this encyclopedic, large format register, and, quite simply, it goes from strength to strength. Sponsored by the World Ship Trust, the book contains details of some 2,000 ships from over 50 countries - in fact, the most comprehensive listing of surviving historic ships ever put together. Entries are organised alphabetically by country and cross-referenced by ship type.

A brief history and basic data is given for each vessel. The current state of vessels undergoing restoration is described and the appendices lists changes of status since the last edition - this a rather sad section; a list of vessels by type; the location of remnants of historic vessels; museums, organisations and commercial operators owning historic ships, and a very useful and exhaustive bibliography of books and articles on maritime and preservation.

Truly, this is an authoritative work and its author deserves the highest praise. No lover of historic ships should be without "Brouwerís Register".

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Aak to Zumbra

A Dictionary of the Worldís Watercraft

Aak to ZumbraAak to Zumbra surveys the huge variety of the boat, with more than 5,600 entries from every country and culture in the world. It includes descriptions of each vesselís hull form and design features, method of construction, rig, function and associated cultural traditions. Each entry lists both vernacular and specialised terms used in the vesselís working life, together with variants in the vesselís nomenclature. In addition, there are many thousands of cross- references, a geographical index card and a selected, if rather small, reading list.

Of course, the book is not definitive - it does not set out to be - and with over 19,000 recorded working watercraft to choose from, a process of selection had to be adopted. Thus, some well-known types are not included; nor are vessels designed to be propelled solely by engine, some larger naval vessels, pleasure and racing craft, and certain archaeological finds. To add just one note of criticism, the few hundred sketches of some of the vessels rather let the overall feel of the book down, but having said that, this book represents an incredible achievement and all those concerned with the research behind it are to be congratulated.

The Americaís Cup

By The Harvill Press

The Americaís CupThis is a revised edition of the book first published in 1990, thus enabling the work to be updated with images from the last two challenges, as well as the newest available shots of the challengers for the forthcoming 2000 Cup - the 30th series for the Americaís Cup.

As you would expect, the images are superb and they are allowed to make the most of themselves in this beautifully produced, large format volume. There is a short, but perceptive, introduction by the great Olin Stephens, himself a designer of Americaís Cup-winning yachts, and Sir Peter Blake, leader of the victorious New Zealand team in 1995, writes the foreword.

In the end, however, it is the images that do the talking, especially those of the Races up to the Second World War; they make you wish that the "big yachts" still raced for the "Auld Mug". Still, if you canít see the real Shamrock of 1899 in action, a Beken photograph of Liptonís first challenger is as good a substitute as you could wish for.

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The Illustrated Companion to Nelsonís Navy

By Nicholas Blake and Richard Lawrence

The Illustrated Companion to Nelsonís NavyThis book works on the assumption that not everyone who reads the novels of authors like OíBrian, Pope, Kent, Woodman et al know as much about Nelsonís Navy as these writers assume. And so this companion explains, with reference to the novels, all - or quite a lot anyway - there is to know about the world inhabited by our fictional heroes.

To this end, the succinct text and more than 500 illustrations look at everything from the ships to the gastronomic delights of Skillygalee. Itís a big task, of course, and as a result there is little space to go into fine detail.

However, this book is not for the buff, more for the tyro, and as such it succeeds admirably. If, for you, life is too short to want to know all about catharpins or Gabriel Snodgrassís thoughts on the design of ships of the line, this book will prove invaluable.

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Exmoorís Maritime History

By John Gilman

Exmoorís Maritime HistoryJohn Gilman began collecting old photographs of the ports of Exmoor in the early 50s. At this time it was still possible to come across the men who, in the late 19th century and early 20th, had sailed the smacks, ketches and schooners that are recorded in the photographs. As a result, the author was able to piece together a history of the vessels, men and ports of this beautiful part of the country. So painstaking was John Gilmanís research that individual vessels can be identified and their working life charted, sometimes up to the point where they were lost or had to be laid up.

And from the men who sailed this difficult coast the author collected stories that recall seamanship of the highest order, and often a considerable degree of bravery, a way of life, in fact, that the modern yachtsman can only wonder at. There are almost 200 photographs in the book, most of which have never been published, and John Gilmanís extended captions are models of their kind. In short, this is a book not just for those who are lucky enough to live around Exmoor, but for anyone interested in the twilight years of the coasting trade under sail, and its author deserves the highest praise, both for his foresight in collecting the pictures before they were consigned to oblivion, and for the faultless research that lies behind their captioning.

The Black Ship

By Barry Clifford

The Black Ship Captain "Black Sam" Bellamy was a pirate who met his end when his ship Whydah sunk in a storm off Cape Cod in 1717. Bellamy and his crew were amongst the most successful pirates ever, having plundered gold from more than 50 ships. Barry Clifford, the author of this book, first got to hear of Black Samís exploits from his uncle when, as a child, he would listen to tales of the English pirate. As an adult, Clifford became obsessed with the idea of finding the Whydah.

This is the story of that obsession and its culmination with Clifford and his team recovering much priceless treasure from the wreck.

The search lasted some 15 years, but Cliffordís obsession ran on to establish the Whydah Learning Centre in Provincetown, USA, and even as you read this piece, his involvement with the Whydah is not done, for his search for clues that will tell him more about Bellamy and his lover Maria Hallett means that he will, in his own words, "go back again and again, in hope that I find them all".

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Sail to Adventure

Published By Churbarry Enterprises Ltd

Sail to AdventureFor anyone thinking of getting afloat, be it on a Sail Training ship, a charter ship, a vessel doing more local day or weekly coastal trips, or a long-distance race, this large format, profusely illustrated paperback is a must. All the contact names and addresses are here, as well as good advice on what the prospective sailor will need to equip himself with on a voyage.

And the book is about as good a guide as youíll get to all the vessels in commission at the end of the century that might be termed "Tall Ships", as well as those that are not so tall - so thereís potted histories and technical details of everything from the mighty Sedov at 399ft to the little Russian sloop Forward at 37ft.

The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex

By Owen Chase, First Mate

The Wreck of the Whaleship EssexOn the morning of the 20th November 1820 the Nantucket whaleship Essex was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale. The ship was more than a thousand miles from land and 20 sailors managed to scramble into three boats: only eight survived. This account of the ensuing voyage - called a "wondrous story" by Melville - is told by Owen Chase, who kept a journal of the three month ordeal, an ordeal during which the survivors, before being rescued off the coast of South America, by the brig Indian, were driven to eat the heart and flesh of one of their dead shipmates.

This is a harrowing story written in prose that is a model of clarity by a man not given to overstatement. Few novels are as disturbing as Chaseís restrained account of the nightmare voyage - read it and keep telling yourself, this is a true story, it happened to human.

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